My name is Amanda and I’m an American 3D modeler freelancing remotely out of Richmond, Virginia.
This is basically the story of how my art developed and how I got to where I am (and where that is!)
Here’s the short version:
- Grew up backpacking and camping in Northern Virginia
- Started drawing in middle school because of anime
- Went to an arts-specialty high school and got really interested in plants and environmentalism
- Applied to VCU in Richmond, VA and got accepted with scholarships!
- Realized I hate living in a city with no plants
- Fell in love with 3D modeling and coffee ❤️☕
- Joined a bunch of eco-clubs and applied for a minor in Environmental Studies
- Decided my senior year that I wanted to be a 3D environment modeler!
- Graduated in May 2019 with a BFA in Kinetic Imaging and minor in Environmental Studies
- Began working as a full-time freelance modeler
Now I’m working on expanding my freelancing career and 3D modeling skills!
Here’s the long version of my story:
I was raised in Northern Virginia – near the Ikea, for those of you familiar with Virginia! I grew up hiking and backpacking all throughout state and national parks (thanks mama!) It was through this upbringing that I gained a deep respect for plants, nature, and the planet. As a little kid, I infamously used to cry every time our neighbors cut down a tree!
By the time I was in middle school I became really interested in art, mainly because of anime like Cardcaptor Sakura and Inuyasha, and because my big sister was also into art. I loved to draw – although at that point I was mostly drawing anime-style characters I made up like this:
Luckily, this was enough for me to get accepted into the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts program! It was incorporated into my local high school and gave me access to a few wonderful teachers who taught me the important foundations of art.
It was also during this time that I started getting really interested in plants. My mom had always had a garden while I was growing up, but it wasn’t something I got involved in until this point. I’m not really sure where it came from, but I suddenly wanted to take care of all of the plants that my mom kept around the house. I learned about every single one and discovered I had a very green thumb! From there my new hobby expanded exponentially – I got my own plants and called dibs on the sunniest room in the house
It was this combination of a liberal arts-based high school and a newly-found love for plants that led me to start making art with green themes – considering I was 15/16, a lot of it is pretty heavy-handed to say the least
In late high school I also began getting into digital art – I was kind of terrible at it, but I kept trying anyways!
A quickside note:
During this time I started drawing trees in this style:
After I created the above painting, I started incorporating that style into basically everything I made (which had the inadvertent effect of me painting a lot more trees)
Once I got into 3D art (which comes later in this story!) I also started using this style in my modeling, like this tree stump:
Okay, back to the story:
During my senior year I decided to apply to Virginia Commonwealth University, the #1 public art school in the country. I wanted to become an illustrator (or maybe a painter? I didn’t really think about it much at the time, which in retrospect was a terrible idea!)
I was accepted with scholarships, which sealed the deal for me! I decided to go to VCU. I moved into dorms in Richmond, VA.
At VCU I had to go through a foundational first year before I could apply to be in a more specific department. I had wanted to go into Communication Arts, which was essentially illustration, BUT during that year I was introduced (very vaguely!) to animation. By the end of the year when it came time to choose which department to apply to, I decided that I wanted to learn something new, rather than what to me seemed like learning what I was already doing. I applied to the Kinetic Imaging department instead. I always thought the name was a bit pretentious, but it basically covers animation, sound, and video.
Although I didn’t really enjoy the first three semesters of audio, video, and coding, I powered through and managed to learn some basic skills that would end up being important later.
At the same time, I joined a few different eco-friendly/environment/green clubs on campus, and got involved with VCU’s community garden. Living in the city without plants or trees and with so much pollution was really hard for me, so it was such a relief to work in the garden, especially since the food grown there was passed on to a community center for heart health awareness
I also applied for a minor in Environmental Studies around this point, since it was something I was really interested in (and a lot of the credits I had already could go towards it!)
In my fourth semester, I finally (finally!) got to take my first 3D class; 3D Animation I. It was pretty basic stuff – mainly how to navigate Autodesk Maya and model very basic shapes.
I l🖤ved it!
3D was so much fun right from the start. I picked it up really quickly because I was genuinely interested in the subject (not to mention I had the most lovely teacher, Semi Ryu) She introduced me to Maya’s Arnold plug-in, and we’ve been in love ever since! I logged a lot of extra hours in the lab that semester (mainly rendering to be honest – the struggles of a 3D artist!)
VCU pushed a very ‘fine arts’ curriculum (as you may notice from the above link) so I created some different artwork during that time. It was more about concept over aesthetic or function – I’ve heard that east coast art schools are fine arts-based, while the west coast art schools are industry-based. Either way, I finished that course and immediately signed up for 3D-II
Around my second 3D class, I noticed that I really preferred modeling over any other aspect of 3D. I started focusing a bit more on 3D modeling, although I did continue to create animations and practice rigging, lighting, rendering, etc.
I also started drinking coffee around this point ♥☕
It wasn’t until the second half of my Junior year that I discovered that Communication Arts, the department I wanted into as a senior in high school, had a whole subsection of 3D classes that Kinetic Imaging didn’t offer! I instantly signed up for what I could. I could only get two classes but it was enough to ignite my passion for 3D even further. I had two classes with one of my all-time favorite professors, Grey Hash. He had a bad reputation as someone who was overly harsh, but I really enjoyed that aspect as no one in the Kinetic Imaging department was strict in any way. The rigid requirements of the classes he taught were something I really needed to improve as a 3D modeler.
It was during one of these Comm Arts classes that I decided I wanted to be a 3D environment modeler!
I started working harder than ever and really expanded my portfolio at this point.
From those classes and also joining VCU’s ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter, I met a lot of amazing 3D artists and I was inspired to go to both SIGGRAPH 2018 and 2019 as a student volunteer.
Since 3D was cemented as my focus by this point, I also decided on what I would do for my senior thesis. I wanted to create something that demonstrated my 3D modeling abilities, but also adhered to the more fine arts VCU curriculum. I ended up creating a short film I titled ‘Calm Down’.
I was really happy with the way my senior thesis came out – although there are some parts I’d like to change. It was a lovely ending to my time at VCU, and I graduated that spring (May 2019) with a B.F.A. in Kinetic Imaging, and a minor in Environmental Studies.
From there, I decided to stay in Central Virginia rather than move back to NoVa.
Although I had been freelancing throughout my time at university (and even before that!), I committed to freelancing full-time about a month after graduation.
My freelance 3D modeling career had officially launched!
From there, I expanded my freelance 3D modeling career and on the side began working on a few different collaborative projects with some awesome artists I knew from school, SIGGRAPH, etc. I have a few posts about collab work under the ‘Collaborative Project’ tag.
That just about brings the story to where I am now. I’m working hard freelancing, focusing on environmentally-friendly product modeling and rendering and plant-themed environment and asset modeling, and I still love coffee ♥ plus I still go backpacking whenever I can get the chance!